Back and recovering from my Strategic Investment Conference this weekend (where I decided to give myself permission not to write my usual letter, but I promise I will be back at it this next Friday!) I have spent some time pondering what we learned. It was a fabulous conference. Lacy Hunt, Dr. Gary Shilling, David Rosenberg, Niall Ferguson, Paul McCulley, George Friedman, former Fed Senior Economist Jason Cummins (who is now Chief Economist for Brevan Howard, the largest European hedge fund, and who was quite impressive), Jon Sundt of Altegris, and your humble analyst were all in top form. I must admit with a little pride that I think this is the finest speaker lineup for ANY investment conference anywhere. We were given a lot to think about.
Let me give you a few key points as an intro to this week's Outside the Box. First, there is a bubble building and it is in sovereign debt. It threatens to be a worse bubble than subprime or the credit crisis. Second, at one panel where we were asked what is our main worry, Paul McCulley said "Europe," which triggered an intense discussion, both in the panel and later that night over dinner. I agreed, of course, as I have written that very thing.
Both Paul and Niall think the consequences of a euro breakup could be severe, not only for Europe but for the world. I agree. That is why I have focused so much space in my writing and in Outside the Box on the European and especially the Greek situation. Everyone is hopeful that a major breakup can be avoided, but the problems the Mediterranean countries face are serious. I got the sense that most everyone expects the euro to fall further over the coming years.
In my opinion, there is little hope that Greece can resolve its fiscal crisis in a way that is less than draconian. I see almost no way out without a default of some kind. There will be band-aids and other measures to postpone the day of reckoning, but not to avoid it. They have just gone too far down a road of bad decisions.
Today we look at two short essays on Greece, one from Stratfor (George Friedman was in rare form this weekend) and the other from my friends Eric Sprott and David Franklin of Sprott Asset Management. Sprott gives us some details on a brewing Greek banking crisis and then closes with some thoughts on sovereign debt. He throws this little bon mot at us:
" ... [the US Government Accounting Office] goes on to state, however, that using reasonable assumptions, 'roughly 93 cents of every dollar of federal revenue will be spent on the major entitlement programs and net interest costs by 2020.'"
That is an example of the economic truism that if something can't happen, then it won't. Long before we get to 2020, massive change will be forced upon the US. The question is, do we do it willingly or do we become Greece?
And before I turn you over to the capable hands of Stratfor and Sprott, I have to end with what I think was the best one-liner of the conference (and there were so many). Paul McCulley noted that the debt crisis (the shadow banking system, subprime mortgages, SIVs, etc.) was the equivalent of an under-age drinking party with the rating agencies handing out fake IDs.
Have a good week. (And a special thanks to Lee Stein and David Malcolm for being so generous with their homes and wine cellars, respectively.)
Your feeling like I was drinking information through a fire hose analyst,